On May 22, 2011, an EF5 tornado hit the town of Joplin, Missouri, tragically claiming the lives of 161 community members. For then superintendent of Joplin Schools Dr. CJ Huff and district communications executive director Kim Vann, the outlook was not good—Joplin High School was completely destroyed, and over half of the community’s other schools were significantly damaged by the tornado. Because of the widespread damage, early FEMA estimates showed that a third of Joplin’s students could be displaced and attend school elsewhere. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Vann would receive an unexpected phone call from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, DC. UAE officials, who had seen the disaster on international news broadcasts, wanted to help.
Ultimately, the UAE Embassy provided laptops to almost 2,200 high school students so classes could resume in August. A UAE grant to Mercy Hospital Joplin also funded the construction of a new pediatric care wing. And the UAE government sent aid workers to help Joplin rebuild homes and a hospital. Joplin Schools opened on schedule in the fall and retained 95% of their student body, despite FEMA’s estimates. Hear all about Joplin’s recovery, the helping hand received from an unexpected friend and why the UAE holds a special place in the hearts of Dr. Huff and Ms. Vann.